December 10, 2007


Heirs fight over museum collection


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Ken Eaton looks over a photo album containing Japanese photos taken during the bombing of Pearl Harbor from his collection at the Homeville Museum in May of 2003.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A family feud over a dead father’s estate could interfere with plans a local group has for displaying his antique military collection in a planned museum in Cortlandville.
The Homeville Museum Inc., which formed in 2005 by a group of volunteers, was seeking to purchase and house Kenneth Eaton’s collection of American military, railroad and Cortland County artifacts at a museum complex on Route 11.
A World War II veteran, Eaton, who died in February 2006 at the age of 80, spent more than 35 years assembling his collection of more than 10,000 items.
Eaton’s three stepchildren are fighting his two natural children for half of his estate, which includes the collection. Whether the stepchildren win half of Eaton’s estate, the Homeville Museum believes the collection will still be on display when the museum opens.
Eaton’s museum collection has an estimated value of $160,000, according to court records.
Zack Becker, president of the Homeville Museum Inc., said before Eaton died, the group made arrangements with him to buy it. Becker said he could not disclose how much was offered.
Money the museum solicited to buy the collection will be used to preserve the items and for building renovations, Becker said.
“Because most of the collection is of local connection, it has a priceless local value,” Becker said about how much Eaton’s collection is worth. “But on the open market, I am not sure.”
The collection includes rare items of local and national political and economic significance, a massive collection of model trains including a huge panoramic display and a military collection with several vehicles and a vast amount of other military memorabilia. Eaton’s collection has direct connections to local history and veterans, from the Civil War to the Gulf War.
The Homeville Museum will also include an art gallery and other community artifacts that are not a part of Eaton’s collection.
Now that Eaton has died, Becker said the collection will be permanently on loan to the museum but remain in ownership of Eaton’s two natural children, Charles Eaton and Diana McGee. Charles Eaton sits on the board of directors for the Homeville Museum.
Becker would not disclose when the collection would be donated.
“All I can really say is that his natural children will be donating the collection to us. I can’t go that deep into it because of the legal issues,” Becker said. “They felt it was their father’s life work, it was a part of their father. They believe in our mission but they still want to hold on to the collection; it’s more of a family heirloom.”
However, Eaton’s three stepchildren, Gordon, David and Leanne Atcheson, who all live out of state, are now fighting Eaton’s children for half of his estate, estimated at $284,037.
They point to a joint will between Eaton and his second wife, Nancy, their mother, that splits the estate between the natural children and stepchildren.
Complicating things is a second will Eaton wrote in 2002 after Nancy died that left his estate to his two natural children.
The matter has now gone to Surrogate Court, and Judge William Ames must decide which will is valid.
The joint will was signed by Eaton and his wife on July 7, 2000.
Oral arguments over the matter were heard in Cortland County Court on Aug. 22 before Ames.
Ames determined that there were too many issues that needed to be clarified and another hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 7.
Calls to the stepchildren’s lawyer were not returned.
Ames, however, did decide the joint will was essentially a contract between him and Nancy that stated who would retain ownership of their property once they have both died. If either died before the other, the joint will leaves all properties to the survivor.
The joint will also states that neither of them will make any other will after the death of either of them and abide by what is written in the joint will.
After Nancy Eaton died in 2001, Eaton created his new will.
John Moss Hinchcliff, an attorney with Miller Mayer in Ithaca, said that if the stepchildren win the case they could be awarded half of the collection.
“In theory half of it (the collection) would belong to them; or at least the half of what it is valued at, which is worth more than anything else in Ken Eaton’s estate. That would completely undermine everything Ken Eaton was working for,” said Hinchcliff, who is representing Charles Eaton and Diana McGee in the matter. “(The stepchildren) just want money … (The natural children) are proud of what their father collected and would like to see it displayed for the public.”
Although Hinchcliff said Eaton’s stepchildren could win half of his estate, Becker claims there is no doubt that the collection will be a part of the Homeville Museum when it opens in 2009.
Becker said the museum is in the process of drafting a contract that states the collection will remain at the Homeville Museum until the museum can no longer care for it or closes, to be signed by Eaton’s two natural children.
The Homeville Museum will be a part of the Central New York Living History Center, which plans to encompass exhibits examining the agricultural and industrial aspects of the region with Brockway Trucks, Eaton’s collection, antique fire trucks owned by Mahlon Irish of Homer, antique clocks and tractors from the Tractors of Yesteryear group.
The Central New York Living History Center site is located at the former A.B. Brown property owned by the Homer-Cortland Community Agency, which is overseeing the development of a museum complex that will house the historical artifacts.
Executive Director of the HCCA Bill Breidinger said the property is just over 6 acres and includes five buildings.




Leaders give state of county, city, C’ville

Officials call for cooperation as city looks for ways to save money

Staff Reporter

Cortland County and the town of Cortlandville are in good financial shape, while the city faces financial difficulties, according to government officials who spoke Saturday.
The three municipalities are trying to work together to help finances in all of the municipalities, they said.
County Administrator Scott Schrader, Legislatarure Chair Marilyn Brown, Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper and Cortland City Mayor Tom Gallagher spoke at a state of the municipalities event Saturday at the SUNY Cortland Alumni House on Tompkins Street.
It was the fourth such event hosted by the League of Women Voters in recent years. About 25 people attended the event, most of whom were league members or their spouses.
County Administrator Scott Schrader touted the 4 percent county tax reduction for next year, and emphasized the importance of the county working with the city and towns to save money.
An example, Schrader said, is the county allowing towns and villages pay into its workers’ compensation program, Schrader said.
That cuts costs for municipalities and makes it less likely they’d loose protection in the case of a catastrophe.
The county has recently demonstrated interest in cooperation with municipalities by starting talks about it possibility picking up the tab for funding libraries, Gallagher pointed out later in the talk.
Currently individual municipalities fund the libraries. Schrader added the city and county are considering merging their prisoner booking and holding operations.
Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said like the county, Cortlandville is in good financial shape, with low taxes and high reserves.
Tupper cited a 2006 audit recently accepted by the board that shows the town added more than $700,000 to its reserves in 2006.
He said he expects the town will add even more this year, though he didn’t know the amount.
At the same time the town has achieved numerous projects, he said. Those include the new Town Hall, the new park off Starr Road and the town’s new aquifer monitoring plan, which is designed to identify any pollution in the aquifer.



Lifton supports getting rid of truck traffic

Staff Reporter

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton has sent a letter to state agency representatives asking that immediate action be taken to keep trucks hauling solid waste on two-lane state roads throughout the Finger Lakes region.
Lifton (D-Ithaca) sent the letter Friday to Commissioner Pete Grannis of the Department of the Environmental Conservation and Commissioner Astrid Glynn of the Department of Transportation.
She told them garbage trucks hauling municipal waste from New York City and downstate counties are threatening the area’s quality of life.
She is pushing for garbage hauling companies to be required to use four-lane highways as much as possible, and advocating that reusable and recyclable materials be sorted from waste to cut down on the amount of garbage.
Lifton has contacted high-level agency officials because of an overwhelming local outcry against the trucks and the lack of response from regional agency representatives.
Lifton has also asked Cornell University to study the truck traffic and its impact on the region. The study will take place in the spring.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is also opposed to the truck traffic. He’s been meeting with representatives of the largest garbage truck company that hauls trash from New York City to Seneca Meadows Landfill and New York City officials to see if contracts can be changed to keep trucks off small roads.
Schumer noted that during a recent meeting, New York City officials pledged to require city trucking contractors to only use interstates and highways when it renegotiates contracts in 2008.
Schumer is also pushing a bill, separate from the negotiations with New York City, which would require the states to establish standard highway routes for trucks carrying hazardous materials and long-haul municipal solid waste. It would not affect local trucking, municipalities or farmers.
Some residents and officials in communities along Routes 41, 41A and 90 in Cortland County have complained about the garbage truck traffic. Several trucks have overturned in recent years while traveling through the county on the way to Seneca Meadows in Seneca County.
“We have hundreds of trucks, some from downstate counties, going directly north to Seneca Meadows Landfill and other landfills and they are taking the shortest route to save money,” Lifton said this morning. “They are harming the communities.”
Lifton said she has received many complaints from area residents and has been pushing for action for more than a year.
“I thought it was time to lay out publicly where we are and to try to to find solutions on the state and federal levels.”
Solutions could include shortterm actions, such as limiting garbage truck traffic, to long-term actions to increase recycling and reuse of waste to cut down on the volume of garbage that is sent to area landfills, she said.




Local Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah 

Staff Reporter

Members of the area’s Jewish community came together Friday night at Temple Brith Sholom to celebrate Hanukkah with good food, company and traditions.
The celebration of Hanukkah, which started at sundown Tuesday and ends at nightfall Wednesday, is also called the festival of lights. The eight-day Jewish holiday commemorates the rededication of an important temple in Jerusalem after a war with Syria in second century B.C.
“The symbol of light is the symbol of beating incredible odds,” said Jo Schaffer, a member of Temple Brith Sholom at 117 Madison St.
Lighted menorahs and lights commemorating deceased members of the congregation shined during a service.
Joan Goldwyn stopped by a plaque commemorating her late father, Milton Chasnoff.
“It’s a way we can remember them,” she said.
Throughout the service, Friday prayers and chants made reference to those who had died. People who had recently lost a loved one stood up during one of the prayers.
Prayers also made reference to the importance of loving, listening and helping others.
The service and dinner beforehand attracted members of the 35-family congregation, members of the SUNY Cortland community and Christians seeking knowledge about Judaism.
During dinner, which included traditional potato latkes, or fried cakes of potato and egg, SUNY Cortland Co-Coordinator of Multicultural Life Tanya Abilock joked about how the food attracted her to the event.
“This is what we do, we’re Jews,” she said.
“And talk,” a friend chimed in.
At Abilock’s table was Halie Meyers, a SUNY Cortland senior who led Friday’s service. Because Temple Brith Sholom is so small it does not have its own rabbi.
Meyers said Temple Brith Sholom is different than the temple she is used to at home.
Women and men sit together in Cortland, and the tunes of the songs are different.
“You must help me because I don’t know the tune,” Meyers said at one point during the service.
Mark Suben, president of the temple, said he sang louder than usual to try to help guide Meyers.
Visitors to the temple included Harry Weston, a former French professor at SUNY Cortland that Goldwyn had invited and five Christ Presbyterian Church confirmation students accompanied by the Rev. Janet Hansen.